PENNSYLVANIA — For 22 years, Angie Colarusso has been giving orphaned or injured wildlife in seven Pennsylvania counties a second chance to live in the wild. The licensed mammal rehabilitator, one of less than 35 professionals serving 67 counties, speaks with considerable experience when she urges concerned citizens who encounter seemingly stranded wildlife not to take the animals into their homes.
Apparently, Mother Nature still knows best. Plus, people with good intentions can find themselves facing fines from the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) of up to $1500 per animal. “It’s illegal for anyone without a license issued by the PGC to raise a wild animal,” said Colarusso, who operates the non-profit Second Chance Wildlife Center. “Sometimes they’re injured or truly orphaned, and it’s important to get a rehabilitator involved. But in many cases, the mother is nearby and will return once you leave the area.”
If the fine isn’t enough to keep you at a respectful distance, consider this: any “high risk” rabies vector species (skunks, raccoons, foxes, bats, coyotes and groundhogs) confiscated after human contact must be euthanized and tested; it cannot be returned to the wild. “It’s a death sentence for the animal,” said Colarusso, who holds a special license for rabies vector species.
This year, with the unusually warm weather, Colarusso is seeing more babies on an earlier timetable. “Everything exploded early this year,” she said. While she normally starts seeing fawns in late May, this year they’ve been showing up since early May.
Squirrels, rabbits, opossums and more have been busy, too, and Colarusso is actively bottle-feeding around 35 baby animals and caring for 70 animals overall with the help of volunteer Shane Kleiner and family members.
Another factor affecting wildlife in some of the counties Colarusso covers is gas drilling and pipelines. The removal of trees and brush due to clearcutting wipes out habitat and puts the animals on the move to try to find other places to live.
When trying to decide whether to contact a rehabilitator, Colarusso advises that the animal be observed for at least four hours to see if the parent returns. On the other hand, if a fawn is in distress, for example, walking around and crying, with a dry nose, it’s probably time to place a call.
For those who find wildlife that truly is in need of assistance, a listing of licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be found on the Pennsylvania Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators website at www.pawr.com . If unable to identify a wildlife rehabilitator in your area, contact the PGC region office (www.pgc.state.pa.us ) for a referral.
Without doubt, rehabilitating wildlife is a labor of love. Funding is scarce and the hours are endless. Some animals need to be fed every two hours to four hours and it’s a 24/7/365 responsibility. For the first time in 20 years, Colarusso managed a vacation last year, then couldn’t shake a sense of guilt over leaving the animals in the care of others.
Still, it’s a calling that Colarusso can’t imagine not being involved with and she hopes to continue accepting orphaned and injured wild mammals for care, rehabilitation and eventual release back into the wild.
SCWC is supported by fundraisers, public and private donations and program fees. Public education programs such as “What to Do in a Wildlife Emergency” are presented throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania for education and fundraising purposes. Funds provide for food, heat, housing and veterinary care as well as center maintenance. Donations are tax-deductible and can be sent to SCWC, P.O. Box 485, Tunkhannock, PA 18657.
Volunteers are needed for off-premise tasks such as chopping vegetables and other foods for the animals. The organization also keeps a wish list of needed items, such as acorns, unsalted peanuts in shells, fencing supplies, flea spray, baby wipes, heating pads and more on its website. Visit secondchancewildlifecenter.org for more information or contact firstname.lastname@example.org  or call 570/836-1851.